Wow it’s been a while since I wrote a travel post. That might be one of the reasons why this recent long weekend in Vermont was so memorable — I think because I’ve been holed up in my dining room staring at a screen for an unhealthy amount of hours all day every day, I was so appreciative of even just getting in the car and driving on I-87 in the general direction of “away from home.” Of course, it helped a good deal that the road led to Vermont, where our youngest daughter goes to college, and a state we’ve gotten to know a little better with each visit these past few years. Usually, we round-trip her drop-off, stopping just long enough to watch a soccer game (in the fall) or stock up on our favorite Vermont foods at the beloved co-op in Middlebury, but this time, we wised up a bit and decided to make a long weekend out of it…
The first smart decision we made was booking dinner reservations (and a room) at The Tillerman, a relatively new inn in Bristol, Vermont owned by two Northern California transplants. In fact, I should fess up right here and admit that this is not so much a “what to do in and around Vermont” post as it is a love letter to the inn where we stayed for three nights, eating dinner there not once, but twice because we wanted to do our best to taste everything on the menu. Owners Jason Kirmse and Kate Baron have spent the past two decades in the worlds of restaurants and sustainable agriculture, and when the pandemic hit in 2020, they decided to move their family (they have two young boys) to Vermont (“where the food and farm infrastructure was already in place,” Kate told me) to live out their dream of owning a property and restaurant like the Tillerman.
I for one am so glad they did. When we walked in on a snowy night, this was the bar that greeted us. There were fires burning in every hearth, pizzas bubbling away in the wood-burning pizza oven that we could see in the open kitchen, and before we even sat down, before we even had a bite of food, Abby said “Can we come back tomorrow night?” (When you know you know.) Once we were seated, every time a new song came through the speaker, we joked that they somehow had access to our Spotify playlists. It was all California Stars and Nashville Skyline and somehow, even that Badfinger song they play in the last scene of Breaking Bad, a song we have queued up in our own kitchen too many times to count.
And the books! They were everywhere! So many comfortingly familiar spines of cookbooks, novels, essay collections, and kids books (including an Andy-edited Fox 8 by George Saunders that we got all weepy about). In other words, we felt like we were in a home away from home but, like, a thousand times more charming.
My photos don’t do the food justice, but it was the way I would eat every night if I could: Chilled, briny, crispy-clean-tasting oysters, brothy heirloom beans cut with a sharp local cheddar, a shredded green-goddess-dressed red slaw that was extra crunchy with the addition of quinoa clusters; wood-fired mushrooms; a spinach-apple-cheddar salad that Kate made us order after we ignored it the first time around because it was “truly, a very special spinach.” She was right! There were the pizzas, of course. This one shown was topped with smoked pepperoni, cheddar, and honey; the next night we ordered a pie with trumpet mushrooms and blue cheese. And do I even need to say it? We were in Vermont so the grains for the pizza crust, all the produce, the eggs, the almost-everything was from a farm or a greenhouse or a bakery or a mill right up or down the road.
Eating our faces off wasn’t the only activity, though it was something we considered. We also went skiing for the first time in years. Even though I am a big scaredy-cat and have to psych myself up every time I’m on the chairlift, this time I loved it, mostly because I kept reminding myself that I was out in the big, beautiful world actually doing something, not just click-clacking away on a keyboard inside. It also helped that Vermont was uncharacteristically balmy — we were skiing in mid-30, low-40 temps — and somehow the snow was still OK. (FYI: Bristol, where we stayed, is close to many mountains: it’s only a 35-minute drive to Sugarbush, 20-25 minutes to Mad River Glen, a half hour to the Middlebury Snow Bowl, and about 1:15 to Stowe.)
All I could think about while I was skiing, of course, was getting back to the Inn for my après-ing. This was the dining room where we sat for our second dinner. So cozy.
The serve-yourself breakfast at the Tillerman was a selection of Butterworks Farm lemon yogurt and maple yogurt, house-made granola, fruit with crystallized ginger, hard-boiled local eggs, frittata wedges…
…maple-frosted cinnamon monkey bread (I mean, come on!), and Brio coffee, which we made for ourselves every morning in personal French presses.
Breakfast provided good fuel for hiking. This was the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, which is perfect for young kids or for grown-ups whose old legs feel like they might buckle after a day of skiing. We’ve done the trail in the summer, too, and love it.
On our way home on Sunday, we hit the co-op in Middlebury for our “beer and skyr” run as we’ve taken to calling it, and picked up a ridiculous amount of chocolate for our chocola-phile Phoebe who has a birthday next week. (Phoebe: Don’t look!) Shown: Daily Chocolate hot chocolate; The Bernie Bar (“slightly salty” haha); Lake Champlain Chocolate hearts and sea salt caramels. (We bundled all that with a copy of the National Book Critic’s Circle Award-winning graphic novel Belonging about a woman trying to make sense of her country’s complicated history. Phoebe’s been wanting to read it forever.)
We also loaded up on Bayley Blue (Will, our waiter at the Inn called it “the blue cheese that even blue cheese haters love”) and cheddar and brie. Man oh man, Vermont. You just hit different.
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